A four line resume with no employment history landed Joe Luther a job as the landscape and horticulture instructor at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology in 2009. Fast-forward eight years, the man who never thought he’d end up in education has been recognized as the national career technical teacher of the year.
In early December, Luther traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to accept the Carl J. Schaefer Memorial Award. The National Occupational Competency Testing Institute board of trustees presented the personalized award to Luther along with $500 to be used toward tuition, room and board, books or any other educational-related expenses.
“I was honored, but as much as I was honored for it, it all goes back to my current students, former students and their parents and guardians. They trusted in me to take their sons and daughters to another level. They deserve it as much as I do,” Luther said.
Luther, 35, founded his own landscaping business at 17 years old after being the “neighborhood grass kid” for the previous five years. In addition to the local work, Luther said his uncle, who lived in Pittsburgh, influenced him to pursue a career in landscaping.
“He had a very successful landscape business and this guy was 100 percent Italian. I remember mowing his lawn four times because I didn’t have the stripes right. If you want to talk about attention to detail, that was this guy and I fell in love with it,” Luther said. “That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I decided to do.”
With the decision made, Luther said the final hurdle was getting his father to sign off on the business. The only stipulation was that Luther went to further his education, which he did at the Pennsylvania College of Technology to earn his associate degree in horticulture and landscape technology.
“I complained the entire time I was up there. I wanted to be done with school and wanted to be making money,” Luther said. “Looking back on it, I’m glad that I went because I learned so much more in those two years.”
Despite his complaints, Luther went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in workforce education from Penn State. Now, he’s pursuing his Master of Science with director certification. Having his life filled with education and schooling is something he never expected when he was growing up.
“My guidance counselor is currently rolling over in her grave right now knowing that I’m a teacher. I wasn’t going to go to college to teach; that just wasn’t me. I had no intentions of teaching ever,” Luther said.
That changed when Luther saw an advertisement for a landscaping position at CPI. He had a friend teaching there and decided to call him to get more information on the position. Thinking he had nothing to lose, Luther applied for the position and that is when he had to begin developing a resume for the first time.
MaryAnn Volders, the director of secondary education at CPI, said that she looked at Luther’s resume on a recommendation from the same person that Luther called to gather more information on the position.
“I can’t say that everybody would have got an interview based on his four line resume, but we really believe in meeting people and finding people that can really relate to students. When we got Joe in here for that interview, we knew that right away,” she said. “He knew horticultural landscaping, and he knew what it would take to make kids successful.”
Volders added that she probably would not have interviewed Luther if it were not for the recommendation.
“That was a lesson learned for me. I do not judge a book by its cover anymore,” Volders said.
Luther’s award was the second received by a teacher at CPI. Mindi Tobias, a dental assistant instructor, won the award in 2015.
“It makes everybody want to be better. We have a positive competition going on,” Volders said. “Mindi and Joe are great teachers. The opportunities they provide for their kids are unbelievable. It’s all about, how can we do the best job that we can to make our students ready to go out and work? They’re role models to the rest of the staff.”
Bret Pallotto: 814-231-4648